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Stars will go big-game hunting with Campbell

by Bob Matuszak / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars didn't finish the first decade of the new millennium quite as well as they started it. Jack Campbell will be out to change that soon.

The American-born Campbell, Dallas' first-round pick this weekend, has no fear when it comes to playing in intense and pressure situations. In fact, he thrives when the stakes are at their highest. Just ask the Canadian national junior team.

After Taylor Hall tied the game at 3 early in the second period of the gold-medal game at the 2010 IIHF world junior championships in January, the Canadians were starting to smell blood as they sought an unprecedented sixth straight title. The neighbors to the north suddenly had it all going for them -- a huge shift in momentum, and a raucous home-country crowd raising the roof at Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon.

Enter Campbell, who despite being just days shy of his 18th birthday was suddenly called upon to douse the raging fire that had consumed starting goalie Mike Lee and the rest of the shell-shocked American team. Campbell, though, was unfazed after passing Lee en route to the crease, and gained strength from an impressive resume.

The native of Port Huron, Michigan had backstopped the United States to back-to-back gold medals at the Under-18 championships in 2009 and 2010. At the 2010 tourney, he posted miniscule 0.83 goals-against average, recorded three shutouts, and was named the top goaltender.

At the age of 12, Campbell was part of the Little Caesars peewee team that won the prestigious tournament for that age group in Quebec.

So as he crouched down in his stance to begin playing in what certainly was a career-changing game on the grandest of stages, Campbell drew from the past to help his team move forward.

The Americans took a two-goal lead in the third period before a furious Canadian rally sent the game into overtime. Undaunted, Campbell made the save of the game in the extra session, kicking out Canadian defenseman Alex Pietrangelo's shot that sparked an odd-man rush for the Americans. John Carlson's ensuing snap shot off the 3-on-1 break gave the United States their second-ever gold medal at the tournament.

Campbell wound up stopping 32 of 34 shots in just over 40 minutes of action, and many pointed to his insertion into the game as the turning point. His selection by the Stars on Friday night should be viewed the same way, as the franchise begins to embark on a new chapter that will undoubtedly include some memorable moments by its fresh-faced franchise goalie.

With Campbell in tow, one should forget all the rumblings about general manager Joe Nieuwendyk not taking a defenseman with his No. 1 pick. A quick peek at the current roster shows that, of the top six blueliners, four are under the age of 26, with Trevor Daley turning 27 the day after Dallas' season-opener in New Jersey. Matt Niskanen is 23, Mark Fistric is 24, and Nicklas Grossman 25. Add 20-year-old Phillip Larsen to the mix, and the Stars are set on the back end.

Newly acquired goalie Kari Lehtonen, the second overall pick in the 2002 draft, will be 27 in November, and 30 once Campbell potentially arrives in the Metroplex. The duo will form a solid 1-2 punch in net, with Lehtonen being looked upon to groom Campbell.

Campbell's rise has been steady, but there's no guarantee that he'll quickly become the player that will be the foundation for the next generation of successful Stars teams. After all, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who led the United States to the silver medal at the Vancouver Olympics in February before capturing the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie last week, needed a step back before taking two giant leaps forward.

Miller played in 15 games as a rookie in 2002-03, registered an impressive 2.63 goals-against average, and was handed the No. 1 goalie slot to start the next season.

After allowing just a pair of goals to Philadelphia in the '03-04 opener, Miller gave up a whopping six goals two nights later in the Sabres' home opener against the New York Islanders. He was quickly shipped to the AHL before re-appearing in Buffalo for a start against the Detroit Red Wings in December.

It was a critical game for the 23-year-old Miller, who seemed to regain some lost confidence while in the minors. But instead of seizing the moment, he completely disintegrated both on and off the ice. Following a dreadful showing in which he surrendered seven goals on just 23 shots, Miller had a hard time controlling his emotions in the postgame locker room.

The future face of U.S.A. hockey wasn't so pretty at the time, as Miller choked back tears while trying to juggle his utter disgust and disappointment with his play.

It wasn't until 2006 when Miller finally began evolving into the goaltender that he is today.

But at 18, Campbell seems to have a bit more maturity than Miller did at that age. Where Campbell is calm and cool on the outside with a competitive fire burning wildly on the inside at this stage of his career, Miller would hurt himself by wearing his ever-changing emotions on his sleeve until realizing the energy lost by trying to control the uncontrollable.

You likely won't see Campbell anytime soon. He is slated to join the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League in a couple months to try and help them to their third straight Memorial Cup championship before joining the United States in late December for the 2011 IIHF junior championships in Buffalo.

Time with the Texas Stars will certainly follow within the next couple of years, but before you know it, Campbell will find himself in Dallas carrying the torch for a Stars team that undoubtedly will be poised to consistently play some springtime hockey as the decade rolls along.

Yes, the future will certainly be ripe and bright with Jack Campbell.

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